laryssa-story2.jpgAs I was sitting writing this entry, the song “She’s Out of My Life” from Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album was softly playing in the background. While typing I couldn’t help but be struck by the line: “So I’ve learned that love is not possession...” Wait...WHAT? Are you serious Holy Spirit?! Did he just say that love is not possession? That line alone immediately brought to the forefront of my mind a conversation I had recently had with a friend about my struggles in ministry, as well as other comments made by fellow peers in the Advanced Summer Ministry program on the nature of love and learning to let go in seasons of transition.

Over the past several weeks I’ve felt a heaviness in my spirit about the prospect of leaving South Africa, especially the kids we’ve had the privilege to work with and serve. I recall one day where this feeling felt especially overwhelming; it was the day my partner and I were driving home from our last day of Vacation Bible School with our school children at Thembelihle Primary. I realized that I was becoming attached to them; thus, the thought of leaving them devastated me. I couldn’t help but wonder: What's going to happen to them when I leave? How will God be faithful to them and take care of them? What if God chooses to take care of them in a way I wouldn't choose? What if they never get the opportunity to fulfill their potential or follow their dreams?

As tears streamed down my face, I turned toward my window to look at the scenic mountain valley before me, trying to distract myself from the pain. And that’s when I saw it: a beautiful rainbow gently bending out of the clouds. I felt my chest constrict and my heart skip a beat as I remembered the rainbow that had appeared to me two years prior on my way back from the funeral of a loved one, as well as the accompanying feelings of anger, confusion, and heartbreak at the newness and unfamiliarity of loss. A wave of emotions washed over me as I began to connect the dots from that memory to the present moment: God was reminding me like he had then of his promise to be faithful. Not only to me but to the children of South Africa.

Hearing MJ’s song I think was no coincidence (though I tend to believe that the spirit of God can work through the power of coincidence). I’ve realized there are going to be times in our lives when we must let go of certain people, places, and things, especially when we hear the voice of the savior beckoning us, “Come, take up your cross and follow me.” Seasons come, and seasons go. But I’ve never understood that about God: Why are we often called to move in and out of the spaces God placed us in to begin with, good spaces filled with his unconditional love and presence? Why do certain chapters of the story have to end? Maybe it’s because we’re to find other spaces where this isn’t so much the reality, and we’re to infiltrate those places with the love of God too. Or maybe it’s because we fail to perceive that with every turn of the page God is creating something new. It’s terribly painful to let go of the people, places, and things that we love. Every time I have to say goodbye, like the song says, I die a little.

laryssa-story3.jpgBut maybe I don’t need to hoard the love or relationships that have been offered to me in this place, or any of the other spaces in my life for fear of scarcity. Although such love has been a great source of healing for me, I’m beginning to see that such actions aren’t necessary. Why? Because God is teaching me that I have access to the same fount from which that love abundantly flows. Not only do I have access to it, but it never leaves me; its spirit dwells inside me. And that’s the lesson of the rainbow: Promise. Not only God’s promise to be faithful, but the promise that we will be loved in and through our grief and loss, nothing ever being able to separate us from that love. MJ was right. Love is not possession. Ultimately, it is freedom and the wisdom to accept the transient nature of all things.

So instead of feeling bitter or resentful at my impending “loss,” I’ve begun to ask myself the question: “LaRyssa, how can you begin to view the season of South Africa in light of what you’ve learned and now know of God and his love for you?” I’ve decided that on my better days, I will try clinging to those promises, remembering all that God has done and continues to do for me. On my better days, I will revel at the fact that I was given an opportunity to serve God’s people in South Africa, for no other reason than God’s sheer goodness and mercy towards me. I will recognize the insurmountable blessing that this experience is and will attempt to cultivate a spirit of gratitude at the enormity of such a gift. I will be appreciative of the time I did get to spend with the children, feeling privileged to have loved them and be loved in return. And I will ask God to show me how such an experience fits into my vocation in Christ’s church. But don’t worry, I’m aware that it’s ok to feel and grieve our losses; rest assured I will occupy that liminal space when ready. Nevertheless, the wise person recognizes they can’t stay there forever; in time, they must eventually let go and move on.

I am honored to have been chosen to not only represent Candler but the Kingdom, and I hope that my small time in South Africa has lifelong impacts for the people there, the Candler community, and the unknown spaces I am being prepared for. I stand amazed at the everlasting nature of God’s love, and that the love I have for these people, their culture, and faith does not end with my departure, as we are all rooted in the same love which bound us together in the beginning and binds us together even now.

While letting go of this place will be hard, I’m beginning to understand that we don’t necessarily lose the things, people, and places we love when we are separated from them, whether due to distance, time, or loss. We never stop loving them either; they are forever with and a part of us. That’s why it’s important to express your love whenever you can and wherever you go; you never know how much time you have with people in any given place. Love needs expression. Thank God it’s not something I learned too late.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)